How to teach a child to ride a bike

By: Andrew
Parents teaching a kid how to ride a bike.


Riding a bike is just like…riding a bike. Once you can do it, you never forget how it’s done. It feels like one of those skills that you just picked up naturally, like walking, running or changing channels on the TV. But everyone had to learn it and work at it, to some degree or another. We all had to take the terrifying yet exhilarating plunge towards riding without balance wheels. And now you’re here because you want someone else in your life to be able to ride a bike. You’re wondering if there are any special tips and tricks you can use. Well, there is something. The absolute best way to help someone learn how to ride is…drumroll please…to put them on a gentle slope.

That’s right, a slight hill gives the bike momentum. And momentum makes balancing easier. If you can’t find a slope, make sure you can run with your kid while pushing them, because that will help too.

Momentum also makes it easier to work the pedals, because your child doesn’t have to push down with their feet so hard, making the side-to-side rocking of pedalling less jarring.

So if there’s one thing you take from this, it’s to start off on a gentle hill. Of course, if your child doesn’t like the thought of rolling down a hill then take them somewhere flat. You don’t want them to feel more terrified than they probably do already at the thought of riding without training wheels.

Here are a few other tips:

Be safe: Make sure your child is wearing a helmet. Other protective gear, such as knee and elbow pads, can also help with safety and confidence. Also, you should pick a location with minimal traffic.

Develop balance: Before you even take them to their gently sloping biking training ground, encourage them to try activities that improve balance, like walking on a line or skateboarding (just make sure they wear a helmet). Then, have your child practice balancing on their bike. This can be done by walking alongside the bike while your child sits on it and lifts their feet off the ground.

Try a strider or balance bike: These can help them get used to the feeling of riding a pedal bike and develop their ability to make the micro-adjustments needed for balancing.

Practice gliding: Once your child is comfortable balancing on the bike, encourage them to glide with their feet off the ground. This will help them get a feel for the bike’s movement and balance.

Practice pedalling: Give them a chance to practice pedalling on an exercise bike, if you have one, before hitting the road. In practice this isn’t perfect because exercise bikes are usually too big for kids, but it can help. You can also walk or run alongside your kid, holding them as they learn to pedal on their own bike. This is where training wheels come in…

Use training wheels: Use training wheels initially for stability, but don’t become over-reliant on them. As soon as you feel that your child is ready to start learning without the training wheels, they should come off.

Pick the right place: Choose a flat, open area away from traffic for practice. Ideally this area should have that all-important slight downward slope.

Be there for your little one: Offer physical support by holding onto the bike while they pedal. Gradually release your hold until, hey presto, your kid is riding independently.

Be positive: Praise their efforts and progress to boost confidence. You’ll probably do this naturally, because learning to ride a bike is an exciting milestone for rider and parents. Don’t forget to film the occasion.

Set challenges: Introduce gentle turns to help them improve their skills. Be sure not to encourage your child to take on tricky turns too early, because it’s not easy to steer when you’re starting out.

Controversial opinion?

We’ve always been told that a rider and bike are the correct size for each other if the rider’s toes just about touch the ground. Or something along those lines, anyway. But for beginners what we suggest doing is lowering the seat right down or, even better, using a bike that’s a bit small. Being able to put their feet down on the ground without wobbling will help your kid focus on learning to ride rather than on wrestling with their bike. A smaller bike is also easier for a kid to handle if something goes wrong (for example, it will be easier for them to pick up a dropped bicycle from the floor and get pedalling), making the experience more enjoyable overall. So, for us, a smaller bike is best for beginners.

Next steps for beginner bike riders

If you’re looking for resources, check out Cycling UK and the Bikeability Trust. They provide valuable information, resources, and tips for learning to ride a bike safely in the UK.